Seven suggestions for the sound system specialist

Seven suggestions for the sound system specialist

Practical pointers for pastors.

Alton D. Johnson, MA, is a retired pastor, chaplain, and chief audio technician, living in Calimesa, California, United States.

The audiovisual (AV) specialist in the local church could be considered the “forgotten person.” Working behind the scenes, he or she is usually ignored except when the audio cuts out or loud feedback “squeals” are heard.

While a smaller church will be happy to find anyone with normal hearing to serve as AV specialists, larger congrega­tions can be more selective in fulfilling such critical and demanding positions. In addition to nominal technical skills, cer­tain personal traits are essential. Can they be content to work in the background with little attention or praise? Are they punctual? Can they be depended upon to open and test each microphone (mic) and piece of equipment in the system before the church is half full? Will they take the time to attend rehearsals of special events that may require changes in mic locations, for instance? Will they graciously accept the criticism (due or undue) that inevitably accompanies any important position?

Following are seven suggestions to pass on to your AV specialist:

1.  Avoid word clipping

When several microphones are being used on the rostrum, constantly opening and closing each one often results in miss­ing the first few words of the prayer or the opening sentence of the sermon. Under normal circumstances, no harm results by leaving frequently used mics “open.

2. Prevent microphone feedback

Failing to prevent microphone feed­back is the most common “atrocity” of public address (PA) operators. Feedback occurs when the microphone picks up the amplified sound from a loudspeaker behind it and then sends the sound back again to the same speaker, causing an endless-loop squeal. Therefore, the mic should not be directly in front of a loudspeaker. The setting at which feedback frequently occurs should be clearly marked on the mixer gain slider.

3. Adjust mic levels

For each new person speaking, the AV specialist must be alert to quickly adjust the mic loudness. The new presenter may have a softer or louder voice than the preceding one. Presenters also vary in the distance their mouths are from the mic. Once the norm for a given speaker is established, the operator should not continually compensate for the speaker’s volume and inflection variations, for without them a good speaker’s delivery would sound monotonous.

Mixer board meters can be useful, but they cannot assess the subtleties of real-life situations. They cannot, for example, advise the AV specialist to increase the level for a large crowd and lower the volume for a smaller attendance. Just the difference of a few people can affect the acoustic balance. The operator’s ears should never be covered with head­phones while determining the correct audio level.

4. Adjust mic heights

The AV specialist should delegate someone to sit in the front row and, if necessary, quickly adjust the height of mic stands or the pulpit mic for the height of each new person on the podium. Of course, the volume should be cut while the stand or gooseneck is being adjusted.

5. Use rechargeable batteries

Nothing can be more frustrating than having a wireless mic lose power  halfway through a sermon. Some opera­tors think they can judge when it is about time to replace a battery. To avoid having to discard a half-used battery every week or so to guard against failure, consider it more economical to use rechargeable batteries. After the last Sabbath service, the batteries can be left to charge until the following Sabbath, thus ensuring no battery power failures.

6. Avoid operator manipulation

The location of the PA system is crucial. If the audio mixer board’s loca­tion seems too remote or not near the rear-center of the church and real-time audio monitoring is difficult, then the AV specialist should delegate two or three deacons to sit in separate locations and signal when the volume is optimum. Allowing just anyone in the congregation to ask the operator to raise or lower the volume would result in the same dis­satisfaction as allowing everyone access to the church thermostat.

7. Beware of ungrounded microphones

I have a pastor friend who was elec­trocuted in the baptistry after touching a wired but ungrounded mic. While we find it rare now to discover a wired mic in a baptistry, if one is being used in or near the baptistry, it should be removed and the pastor provided with a wireless one. No danger exists with any type of wireless mic, whether in the water or not.

AV specialists are a vital link in providing a smooth, seamless church service. Pastors and church leaders should praise them periodically in public and private, especially after they have handled special or demanding services well.

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Alton D. Johnson, MA, is a retired pastor, chaplain, and chief audio technician, living in Calimesa, California, United States.

April 2015

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